The AMP Music Summit presented by KCRW held its second online conference earlier this week, celebrating the power of collaboration between artists, business leaders and local communities through music, storytelling, technology, law and culture.
While the main arc of the AMP Music Summit focused on culture-shifting changes resulting from COVID-19, a common theme at AMP’s second event was the power of music to inspire smaller cities while building a sense of community and collective pride.
“It’s great to hear the stories of hope and that’s really a lot of what we’re trying to do with this conference,” said Simon Lamb, who along with Rebel Industries founder Josh Levine and Seth Combs co-founded AMP Music Summit earlier this year.
“We want to provide a counter narrative to so much of the headlines that we’re seeing day after day,” Lamb explained during a discussion titled “Blood, Sweat & Vision: Building Creative Community in Des Moines and Tulsa” that featured Tobi Parks with Station 1 Records and Dr. Lester Shaw with A Pocket Full Of Hope, which now operates the Historic Big 10 Ballroom, a 14,000 square-foot space he acquired for $180,000 in 2008.
Once a well known music venue that hosted headliners such as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Ray Charles, James Brown, Little Richard and Ike and Tina Turner, the venue is being renovated into a music, theater and community venue.
“All the musicians here are willing to pitch in and collaborate because that’s where the gift is. The gift is not competition, the gift is collaboration and that is what we want to put together for the community,” said Parks, who expects to reopen the venue next year in time for the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riot Massacre.
Also known as the “Bombing of Black Wall Street,” the 1921 attack that killed dozens of people and destroyed a vibrant black community, was featured as a storyline in Bitter Root which was named best ongoing series during the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards presented virtually during this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
“We wanted to do some historical moments from around the Harlem Renaissance time period,” says Bitter Roots artist Sanford Greene, who was joined by Bitter Roots writer Chuck Brown and David Walker for a panel called “Monsters, Storytelling and Unpleasant Truths: The Fertile Soil of Bitter Root.”
“Is tragic as it is, it had a lot of richness there,” Greene said.
AMP Music Summit often focused on entrepreneurs who found community in unexpected places through cultural connections.
“Music is a community good and so much of our communities are built around music, art culture, venues and the artists that are there. That’s what really gives our communities vibrancy,” said Parks, the former director of copyright for Sony who moved to Iowa from Brooklyn in 2015 with her wife and two children, hoping to give their kids the same experience they enjoyed growing up in the midwest (Parks is from St. Louis).
After receiving a grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, Parks partnered with an arts and entertainment venue called Des Moines Social Club, along with Drake University to launch the non-profit Station 1 Records.
“We created this label to be something that not only was a type of entrepreneurship program for the artists, but it also helped develop students that were at the university to actually work in a real world setting,” said Parks.
Music isn’t just a way of connecting people, it’s also a tool for economic development explains Tommy Battle Jr., mayor of Huntsville, Alabama.
“Looking across the nation, we recognize that music has the potential of bringing in business to help your economy, of bringing people to your community and attracting the best and brightest,” says Battle, who spoke on a panel with Billboard Dance editor Katie Bain about working with Sound Diplomacy’s Shain Shapiro to commission an assessment of the city’s music ecosystem and launch a nine-member Music Board.
“The creative community that is here is just unbelievable,” says Celese Sanders with Encore Opera Huntsville, who said the Music Board’s goal early on was to cast a wide net to create a representative view of the city’s diverse music community. That allowed the board to quickly communicate with its members when COVID-19 forced the closure of music spaces in April.
“The board has done reopening guides and a COVID relief guide,” Shapiro said. “There’s far more communication now between local entities to support artists” in the face of COVID-19 “which no one could’ve planned for.”